Disclaimer: Renee Knight

In Disclaimer from Renée Knight, Catherine, a forty-something, married documentary film-maker has just downsized into a maisonette with her husband Robert. Prior to going to sleep one night, she picks up a self-published paperback, A Perfect Stranger and begins to read. Horrified, she realizes that the book tells the story of an incident that occurred years earlier, something she’s deeply ashamed of, and something she thought she’d hidden….

Chapters initially alternate (this changes as Robert is dragged into this drama) between Catherine and another narrator, Stephen Brigstocke, a widowed schoolteacher. I can’t say much more about the plot without revealing too much,  but I will say that chapter two reveals a very disturbed man who’s out for revenge.

disclaimerExactly how these two people are connected : documentary film maker Catherine and the retired teacher is gradually parceled out in small segments of information over the course of the chapters. By about the halfway mark, you know the connection and you also understand it. I have to say that I guessed the connection (not the details) simply by process of elimination and a few clues tossed out there by the author to be picked up and pieced together.

Disclaimer is a domestic thriller of psychological suspense which capitalizes on the fear that something buried in the past will rear up and destroy the present. Early on, we realize that there’s some unspecified rot in Catherine’s marriage to Robert; his role as the supportive husband seems to be long-established as the man who recognizes what Catherine needs before she realises it. There’s a lot of give-and-take there with Robert giving and Catherine taking.

The novel rather cleverly emphasizes that Catherine is more worried about her marriage and her respectable, hard-earned reputation (as a film maker who raises social-consciousness) than she is about the author of The Perfect Stranger who is obviously someone who intends her violence. She’s so terrified that she plays down the danger. Catherine grasps that the story in the book has been fictionalized but she doesn’t perceive the very real threat posed to her–so while she’s worried about her marriage, we readers see the bigger threat barreling straight at her.

Taking the approach of a multiple narrative seems to be a popular approach in domestic crime books these days. This structure certainly provides a framework to move the story and the reader along, but it can also be frustrating and a little false in its delivery. I fall into the latter camp. I became annoyed with the structure and its frank manipulation when it came to parceling out information sometimes placed, it seemed, deliberately to mislead. Others may not feel the same way, and the story certainly is a page turner.

There’s not much more I can say about the book without revealing spoilers, so instead I’ll give a quote.

The whole experience left me with the sensation that I had reached down into a blocked drain and was groping around in the sewage trying to clear it. But there was nothing solid to get hold of. All I felt was soft filth, and it got into my skin and under my fingernails, and its stink invaded my nostrils, clinging to the hairs, soaking up into the tiny blood vessels and polluting my entire system.

I seem to be in the minority opinion about this book as most readers loved it, and here’s a more enthusiastic review from Cleopatra Loves Books.

Review copy


Filed under Fiction, Knight Renee

11 responses to “Disclaimer: Renee Knight

  1. I’m in two minds about the split narrative as well, find it annoying and manipulative in books very often. It seems to be all the fashion now, as you say, and I am struggling at the moment, trying to decide whether to use it or not in the book I am currently writing. It would really help if I did, but I have to overcome my own reluctance.

  2. I’m sorry you didn’t love this one as much as I did and thank you for referencing my more enthusiastic review. I haven’t yet tired of the split narrative as a device, in fact I quite enjoy books written this way but despite that I can see why some people find it ‘false.’ I love the review even if my viewpoint is different.

  3. I don’t think this is for me as psychological thrillers have a tendency to creep me out (especially if the target is a woman). I haven’t come across this author before – is it her first novel?

  4. The story sounds fascinating.

    Adding domestic drama to suspense usually peaks my interest. Secrets popping up from the past also make for good stories and interesting themes.

  5. Sometimes the split narrative works for me but very often it doesn’t.
    Still, this sounds like a book I might like. And being forewarned can help.
    I like the premise of someone findig a book with a personal secret in it.

  6. I’m not much into thrillers, so I’ll pass on this one. Sorry you didn’t have such a great time reading it.

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